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Iraq closes Kurdistan airports in response to independence vote

By Ed Adamczyk
Kurdish Peshmerga march for an independence referendum in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. After the independence vote was approved by 93 percent of voters, the Iraqi government answered Thursday by closing Kurdistan's two airports to international flights. Photo by Gailan Haji/EPA
Kurdish Peshmerga march for an independence referendum in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. After the independence vote was approved by 93 percent of voters, the Iraqi government answered Thursday by closing Kurdistan's two airports to international flights. Photo by Gailan Haji/EPA

Sept. 28 (UPI) -- All foreign flights to and from Erbil, Iraq, were suspended by the Iraqi government Thursday in response to Kurdistan's pro-independence referendum.

The suspension begins Friday and pertains only to foreign flights to and from Erbil. Internal flights to and from Erbil, the largest city in northern Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region, will continue.

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The order from the government in Baghdad comes after 93 percent of voters approved independence for Kurdistan in this week's referendum. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government does not recognize the vote, and the leader said the referendum was a ploy to exert more control over Iraq's oil economy.

Many regional and international stakeholders, including the United States, opposed the referendum.

RELATED Lawmakers seek to oust Iraqi president over Kurdish independence vote

International carrier Qatar Airways said in a statement Thursday it would cancel its flights after a request from Iraq's Civil Aviation authority. EgyptAir and Lebanon's Middle East Air informed passengers their cancellations were effective until at least Oct. 1.

"The decision made by Baghdad is wrong and illegal," said Talar Farq, director of Erbil International Airport. "It is wrong because the laws they have cited and indeed the ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] law does not give such permission to any authority,"

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Farq added that authorities in Baghdad have "abused their authority," noting that the Iraqi government cannot legally allow some airlines access to Kurdistan's airports and deny it to others.

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Maulood Bawa Murad, Kurdistan's transportation minister, noted Wednesday that Kurdistan's two airports were constructed using the Kurdistan Regional Government's funding.

Murad called Baghdad's decision "a huge blow to the reputation of the civic aviation of Iraq. If this decision is meant to punish the people of Kurdistan for holding a referendum on its independence and deciding its fate, no talks with [Baghdad] will reach a conclusion."

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